Last Monday marked seven weeks from my father’s death. In Zen this 49 day period marks an initial period of mourning, where the departed spirit is said to make its way through a series of trials to its next destination.
As it happened, a friend who is a talented and skilled Thai Bodywork therapist offered me a free session on that day.
And so I come through a time of transition with the help of a friend.
Regular readers know that the past year — year plus about a month and a half, actually — has been difficult for me. My mother was critically ill; my dog Ringo dropped dead in front of me; and my father, after being in and out of the hospital for months, passed away suddenly.
Through this time I’ve been fortunate to have support from friends. Friends have helped cover my karate classes when I couldn’t be there, have contributed to the GoFundMe we set up to help pay funeral expenses, have offered food and comfort and hugs and prayers (which, despite being a naturalistic Pagan, I value).
Back in June, at the Free Spirit Gathering, there was a karaoke session the night I arrived. After so many people had approached me my first few hours there to offer support and condolences on Mom’s illness and Ringo’s death, I wanted to say thank you. So I said, “Some of you know that I’ve been going through a rough spot. Here’s a song about how we get through the tough times,” and sang “With a Little Help from My Friends”.And that was a hard thing for me to say. As someone who was bullied as a child and had to learn to stand on his own; and also as someone who takes pride in being one who helps, who provides aid and steps into difficult situations, it’s hard to acknowledge that need for help.
But it’s why one of the Three Treasures of Buddhism is the sangha, the community of seekers. Budo Zennists like me have dojo communities to fill that role. Pagans have covens and groves and circles. We need each other.
There’s another Lennon–McCartney song that puts it well:
When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors…
Independence and interdependence are both true, a yin and yang pairing, a circular spiraling journey. We are conceived completely dependent on our mother, and dependent for others for years after birth. And some never develop past that dependent stage; but mature adulthood brings independence, the ability to stand on one’s own.
But if we reach that point, and continue to investigate and grow — many people don’t, but if we do — we find that even in standing on our own, we rely on the support of the Earth. (Even the Buddha had to learn that.)
We come back around to seeing our dependence — our “interbeing”, as some put it — on and with everything and everyone else, from the plants that breathe out the oxygen I breathe in to the woman who makes the take-out salad I buy for lunch.
We exist only with the help of our friends.